Despite fielding only a handful of candidates in this year’s election, the FUP has big hopes for the future.
The Federal Union Party has big ambitions. “We’ll see you when we’re running parliament,” the party’s chairman Sao Than Myint bragged to Frontier at the party’s headquarters in the heart of Yangon’s Chinatown.
The party will field only 38 candidates in the November 8 election, but Sao Than Myint said the party sees this year’s poll as a mere stepping stone for the 2020 election, after which he expects the FUP to be the ruling party.
The main reason for his confidence lies in the alliance the FUP has formed with 22 other political parties, all fighting for the rights of ethnic people, to form the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation. The aim of the bloc is to create a truly federal Myanmar, Sao Than Myint said.
In a sparsely decorated room at the FUP office, a sticker of the party’s badge – a red backdrop with three white stars above a picture of green hills, a moon and a hyacinth – is stuck to a clunking air-conditioning unit. Above it sits the sticker of another party; the “White Tiger” of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party.
“I used to be a member of the SNDP’s Central Executive Committee, but joined the Federal Union Party when they were formed,” said Sao Than Myint. “We are aligned with them.”
Other members of the NBF include the Chin National Democratic Party, Pa-O National Organisation and Rakhine National Party.
While the other 22 parties represent some of Myanmar’s 135 recognised ethnic groups, the FUP is the only member of the bloc with a primary focus on what the party calls the “Bamar mainland.”
Under Myanmar’s election rules, individuals cannot be members of more than one party. When the FUP was formed in 2013, members of the ethnic parties stood down and were “loaned” to the FUP. Sao Than Myint did not say whether or not he intends to return to the SNDP after the election.
“The aim of the FUP is to make these parties we are aligned with stronger and better known in mainland Myanmar,” he said. “Our first objective is to achieve a federal union. Our second objective is for the next election in 2020, [when] we expect to be the strongest party in the country and form the government,” he said. “I am confident of this,” he said, raising a clenched fist in determination.
With the National League for Democracy enjoying widespread popularity and the well-financed Union Solidarity and Development Party positioning themselves to perform well in the election, would the FUP consider forming a coalition with either of these two big parties to achieve their aims?
“I don’t believe in the NLD. They say they believe in a federal country, but they only say this when they are in ethnic areas, not in the mainland. They are only saying it to collect votes,” said FUP joint secretary Daw Kalyar Soe, an ethnic Rakhine, echoing a belief throughout the party that a federal Myanmar is not a priority for the two main parties. “We want to stand on our own,” she said.
Maung Maung Oo, also known by his pen name Hein Latt, will be running as a lower house candidate for the FUP in Mingalar Taung Nyunt. He joined the party because he believes in their desire to create a federal union.
“We want equality among all of the nationalities in Myanmar,” said the ethnic Burman.
“In Kachin State for example, there have very valuable resources such as jade. When the jade is sold, Kachin State only sees a little bit of money. That is why it is so poor and underdeveloped. When we achieve a federal state, we can share our natural resources equally and we can achieve justice in the country,” he said.
Regarding his hopes for the November election, Maung Maung Oo said he is confident in his abilities as a politician, but to win a seat competing against well-known figures, including the NLD’s Daw Phyu Phyu Tin, might be difficult, he acknowledged.
“I am confident in myself, but many people, they do not know about real politics, they only know about Aung San Suu Kyi.”